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COLUMBIA 39050; NOVEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Sooner or later you knew it’d come to this.

The first rock vocal group, one that’s had unprecedented success in the field, influencing countless other groups in the process, were eventually going to be enticed into making a play for pop acceptance.

They’d already tried countless times on National Records, cutting plenty of sides that had nothing whatsoever to do with “our” music, most of which failed commercially to match their rock output.

Their willingness to sing such lightweight stuff combined with their vast experience playing classier nightclubs meant that some major label was going to see in them the chance to pull in an audience that they were otherwise unable to reach by letting The Ravens name recognition, stellar artistic reputation and the brand loyalty they inspired in their followers do all of the work while the company presumably reaped the rewards for watering down the group’s output to conform to their own questionable musical standards.

We’ve seen this before and we know full well what all the major companies still seem oblivious to… it never works.

Why would this be any different?
 

 

Tried My Best To Keep You Satisfied
Looking back at these decisions some seven decades after rock ‘n’ roll obliterated standard pop in the musical hierarchy it’s tempting to blame others when a vaunted rock outfit begins to step away from what made them worth listening to in the first place.

Often that might be the case, as record company executives were older and so far removed from rock in a cultural sense that they naturally felt that old fashioned pop which had dominated the nation’s collective tastes for generations was the pinnacle of artistic and commercial credibility and thus should be the goal for any artist, no matter their origins, to try and conquer.

Yet there WERE others who were influenced by that perception… namely a lot of the artists themselves!

After all, they’d grown up in the same country during those years and saw that the ones with the biggest names, the greatest sales and airplay and the most respect were the pop stars. They got more lucrative bookings, more media attention, plenty of airplay on major radio stations and quite possibly even had the terms of their contracts fulfilled by their record labels!

Keep in mind too that The Ravens had been one of the few rock acts who had tasted some measure of mainstream success, not with crossover hits, but in terms of the kind of clubs they were playing and the types of co-headliners they were appearing with. It’s doubtful their set list at the Apollo Theater or a string of one-nighters down South was anywhere close to what they were singing at Broadway’s Bop City with Artie Shaw, making them an act that conceivably could pull off the type of music like Time Takes Care Of Everything that a label like Columbia Records would want to promote.

So in the fall of 1950 their contract with National now having run its course, The Ravens signed with the most venerable record company of all knowing they were liable to try to sever their ties with their core fan base and quite possibly set out to destroy their careers, all in the name of “good music”.
 


 
 

You Said You’d Work Your Fingers Down To The Bone
Columbia Records wasted no time in trying to change The Ravens from the successful group they’d been into something few of their fans would recognize starting by extracting their star, Jimmy Ricks, from the others and pairing him with pop songbird Nancy Reed on yet another cover of Louis Prima’s Oh! Babe.

The only positive in this was that she was white and thus it helped to break down some long held segregation ideas in popular music, particularly when it came to pairing white females with black men. Backing them on this was Benny Goodman’s group, obviously one of the best jazz bands in existence, but while Ricky sounds really solid, the others are miles away from him in terms of their attitude and as a result it sure ain’t a rock version.

Of course since it was credited to Goodman (as were three other sides he sang with them by himself) it actually grazed the charts which gave Columbia the idea that Ricky was a potential crossover act… provided of course he was reined in by a legitimate band and tame arrangement.

Enter Columbia’s vaunted Mitch Miller, a notorious rock hater, who convened the full Ravens outfit and backed them with a classy studio band on Time Takes Care Of Everything. What’s notable however is the fact that it’s not Jimmy Ricks who takes the lead, but rather Louis Heyward who’d done such a great job on Count Every Star.

Honestly, he does a good job here too even though there’s going to be some rather obvious stylistic compromises being made. Thankfully Heyward’s not really the one to make them though, as he sings the cockeyed love song with genuine emotion, letting his tenor ride the melody effortlessly.

As for the song itself however it’s either simply a stupid, unfunny send-up of devotion wherein they’re complaining about an ungrateful woman they were involved with… OR it plays into disgusting stereotypes by demeaning the woman and even sort of hinting that their rearranging of her facial features might not have been the result of plastic surgery but rather some more brutal hands-on work.

If you can manage to ignore what they’re saying, how they’re saying it comes across as better than we anticipated with some really nice harmonies at times. When Ricky comes in for the bridge – singing some of the more offensive lyrics it needs to be said – his performance doesn’t try and cater to pop sensibilities at all for which we can be thankful.

As for everything else here though… that’s where they were going to meet up with a mindset that did them no favors.
 


 

Turn Around And Cheat Behind My Back
Okay, let’s start by admitting that the backing music and overall arrangement is hardly terrible no matter the context, even if it’s pretty alien to rock ‘n’ roll.

Because Time Takes Care Of Everything is a record that features the entire vocal group in sizable parts rather than just letting the others “ooh” and “ahh” behind Ricky or Heyward, they’re smart enough to dial back the band’s role here and provide just bare bones accompaniment for their singing.

But “bare bones” does not mean without serious flaws, maybe not in a technical sense (Mitch Miller was far too good of a musician and producer to allow sloppy playing or a haphazard arrangement) but rather in what instruments they featured.

Though only one member of Benny Goodman’s band takes part, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, they are clearly aiming for the Goodman sound by bringing in Mike Hucko to replicate the clarinet work of Benny himself which gets a far too prominent a role as the primary responsatory voice.

The record gets off to a dreadful start as the piano opening sounds as if it was taken directly from a supper club arrangement and while the melody would lend itself to a strong rhythm if they chose to highlight one, they mostly avoid that until finally the drummer comes out of the bridge with a brief flurry before settling back down before anyone complains about the noise.

None of it of course is what we really want to hear behind The Ravens, regardless of what label they were on now, but a lot of this can be fairly easily ignored because the main melodic fills are provided by The Ravens themselves and that, more than anything Miller contributes, is what keeps this from falling flat.

Hardly the best sign for their prospects to say that The Ravens have to outrun their pop pursuers to escape with their rock dignity intact.
 

Crawled, Cried And Pleaded Too
This is a rather strange, almost unexpected, outcome out of the box for this pairing of group and record company. If you feared Columbia Records would completely neuter The Ravens’ strengths as artists you would likely be relieved to find they were allowed to more or less sing in the manner that best suited them.

Yet if you looked for signs that this partnership was creatively doomed if Time Takes Care Of Everything were to hit the charts in a big way (which it didn’t) then you’d have no trouble spotting the warning signs that were evident in how Miller surrounded the group with musicians unsuited for rock ‘n’ roll.

This one turns out reasonably well because The Ravens’ personalities were allowed to shine through, but all you had to do was turn the record over to hear the approach that Miller and his notorious pop gangsters felt was in their best interest on Don’t Look Now.

There the clarinet and vibes get far bigger roles, the lyrics are trite and the main vocal arrangement is artificial as The Ravens are being treated almost as a novelty at times on their own record. Ricky may haul that one out of the pits of hell through sheer effort alone, but unless something drastically changed soon the writing was on the wall.

When a rock vocal group and the most respectable pop label in the land faced off in a battle for control of the former’s soul, it wasn’t going to be The Ravens who came out on top.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of The Ravens for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)